Public Service Innovators -- Saskia Reilly (MPP 1999): United Nations Mission Possible

November 4, 2002
Lory Hough

Describing the job of a chief of staff is never easy. On paper, it looks much less hectic and demanding than it really is. Even those who hold the title have difficulty explaining their workload in a comprehensive way.
Saskia Reilly MPP 1999 is no exception.
"What do I do?" she says, weighing the question carefully. "My job is a mile wide and an inch deep. I do a little of everything."
As chief of staff to the group that represents the United States at the United Nations - officially called the United States Mission to the United Nations - she's the "go-to" person on a lot of issues for her boss, Ambassador John Negroponte. While her boss is out meeting with world leaders and dignitaries Reilly's making sure the office is running smoothly and that the mission is implementing his agenda.
Some days that means filtering requests made to Negroponte or rewriting a press statement for her boss on the latest situation in Africa. ("When you work so closely with someone, you get a good feel for what his or her policy vision is," she says, noting that she is not officially a speechwriter. "I understand where he wants to go with things.") Other times she travels with him on various country visits. Lately she's helping coordinate new projects, including one on women and armed conflict.
Created in 1947 - just five years after President Franklin D. Roosevelt coined the name "United Nations" - the mission helps President Bush and the Department of State conduct U.S. policy at the United Nations. It's also the link between the United States government and the United Nations Secretariat, headed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The work they do covers a gamut of international issues. That means that Reilly, a former journalist, can't just focus her knowledge on one area - the economy or Eritrea, for example.
"I have to be familiar with all of the issues dealt with at the United Nations," she says. Increasingly this means the Middle East, counter terrorism, and Afghanistan. Since last fall, when Negroponte was appointed and Reilly moved up from administrative assistant to chief of staff, it also means 12 hour days, late night sessions, and a "weekend whereabouts" list.
"September 11 totally intensified the pace of work here," she says, noting that the same happened all across government. But at a time when patriotism in the United States is running high, Reilly says she's honored to take on such a large mandate - no matter how complicated it is to describe or how hectic it gets.
"I'm able to serve my country at a time like this and contribute to our efforts in the war against terrorism," she says. "I don't take that privilege for granted. Ever."
Photo Courtesy: Kennedy School Publications - Saskia Reilly in the Kennedy School Forum
For more information about the United States Mission to the United Nations, go to

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